The Sand County Caress
115 Mi.(185 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Nick is a born Wisconsinite but has roamed the universe in search of shredding the sickest lines or just bike pushing in peeper poppin’ locales. Nick has chronicled his journeys, stories and pictures in the photographic recreation of The Sand County Almanac, Bicycle Explorers Club: Photography + Stories of Bicycle Touring. Follow Nick on Instagram @bicycleexplorersclub and on YouTube.
The Sand County Caress (TSCC) was inspired by naturalist Aldo Leopold’s seminal work The Sand County Almanac and is a deep dive into Aldo Leopold country. Savanna, marshes, lakes, rivers, farms, and wildlife areas abound. Bald eagles soar, deer bound, sandhill cranes squawk, and whooping cranes (one of the rarest birds in North America) are all on display on this journey. This route is not a typical “Midwest Gravel Grinder,” and surface snobs need not apply. The hardest part of the TSCC doesn’t come from elevation per usual, but from the unusually sandy terrain leftover from the last ice age—you are riding on the bed of Glacial Lake Wisconsin. If you like sandy gravel, sandy dirt, or just plain sand, you’ll love this type 2 fun.
“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” -Aldo Leopold
The Sand County Caress will take you through Necedah National Wildlife refuge. “A mosaic habitat of sedge meadow, savanna, prairie, and pine-oak forest established in 1939, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is home to ringed boghaunter dragonflies, whooping cranes, trumpeter swans, wolves, Karner blue butterflies, badgers, and red-headed woodpeckers.” Additionally, you will ride through (and camp in) a mirror image of the former in Wisconsin’s own Meadow Valley Wildlife area.
This route is a mixed-media masterpiece, weighing in at 50% pavement (quality may vary) and the rest comprises hard-packed sand “dirt” roads, gravel (on top of sand), ATV trail, and more. The route was 95.69% rideable on 29 x 2.2” Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge tires.
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- Wildlife: Sandhill Crane (common in the area), whooping Crane (very rare in the world, you can see them while riding through Necedah Natl WR), bald eagles, whitetail deer, wolves, black bear.
- Passing through many natural areas, including Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wood County Forest, Meadow Valley Wildlife Area, and Plum Creek Habitat Area.
- If available, camp 6 in Meadow Valley Wildlife Area is free, has filterable water, a fire pit and even boasts pit toilets. Glamping at its finest!
- Necedah National Wildlife Visitor Center has all the souvenirs you need to commemorate your journey (lapel pins + patches, “gotta get ‘em all!”) and has exhibits about the local ecosystem.
- Romano’s Pizza (and tiki bar) on the Devil’s Elbow of the Wisconsin River has some of the finest pizza you’ll find in Wisconsin.
- Half of the route could be ridden on 1980s 700 x 19mm Specialized “Turbo” tires inflated to 140psi… the other half wouldn’t mind 3” tires. I split the difference and rode 2.2” Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge tires and rode 95.69% of the time.
- The route should ideally be ridden September 1st through mid-November (before gun deer hunting season) and Meadow Valley is open for free public camping. If you go during hunting season, wear some blaze orange.
- In summer, the bugs can be out of control (especially during biting fly season, usually two weeks in late July or early August) and camping isn’t available at Meadow Valley Wildlife Area. However, if you must go in summer you could camp at Buckhorn State Park.
- Bring a pen if you plan to camp at Meadow Valley, as you need to fill out a form at camp.
- Parking at Roche-A-Cri Lions Shelter and Sports Park, The Old Mill (bar) or the Arkdale Post Office could be good options. Please call them to verify it will be ok to leave a car overnight.
- There are a couple of highway sections on this route. Highway Z is lightly trafficked and has a nice shoulder. Highway 80 can be routed around if you want to avoid it and add some miles to the route. The one-mile Highway 21 section can be busy and has semi traffic and is especially busy on Friday afternoon to Sunday morning (tourists). There used to be a beautiful trail over a hydroelectric dam you could ride but the dam crossing was fenced off after 9/11. If you are not comfortable riding with cars and semis on a no-shoulder road, you might want to ride in the grass next to the road.
- The route can be run equally well in either direction, depending on how you want to work your Busch Light Latte resupply points since the recommended camp is right in the middle of the route.
- All-road 47mm tires would be fine for 95% of the trip… minus the sand… if you want to ride through the sand, easily 2+” tires would be recommended. Also, the sand can be easily routed around. If the ground is damp, the sand won’t be an issue with 47mm tires either, just if it has been dry for an extended period.
- Meadow Valley Wildlife Area (MVWA) Camp 6 at Mile 60 is the recommended place to camp. There are multiple campsites within camp 6, head to the rear to find the one with the fire pit. MVWA is primitive camping, free (must fill out a form at the camp you intend to camp at) and at camp 6 there are pit toilets and filterable running stream water. MVWA is available to camp 9/1 – 12/31 & 4/1 – 5/31. There also are other camps at MVWA, if camp 6 is full. See the Meadow Valley Wildlife Area website
- Buckhorn State Park at mile 89 is another camping option. Buckhorn State Park is a paid camping area with more amenities. This is a popular camp area and should be booked ahead of time here.
- Off route but close by is Roche-A-Cri State Park. This is a paid camping area and possibly a good place to spend the night before the route and/or after the route.
- You are always surrounded by water but most is marsh and not advisable to filter. Fill up at gas stations and lakes and running rivers when you see them. Also, if you camp at Meadow Valley Wildlife Area Camp 6, there is a filterable stream.
- Various gas stations/bars will be along the route, check the map before you go.
- Romano’s Pizza at mile 20 is an awesome Wisconsin bar-style pizza joint and also a tiki bar. This is the best food stop along the route.
- You will travel through downtown Nekoosa at mile 30. Nekoosa offers bars, restaurants, gas stations, and a grocery store (Piggly Wiggly).
- Ho-Chunk Casino Nekoosa & Whitetail Crossing gas station at mile 32 is the last on route resupply before camp.
- At mile 44, you can stop at “Clarence & Mary Ann / Old Finley Bar” (it is the only thing in Finely) which advertises “pizza and Budweiser Select.”
- On day 2 at mile 79, Necedah has restaurants and gas stations available for the final push.
- The Old Mill (bar) is at mile 1 + 115. Drinks and pub food are available.
- There are plenty of other towns & resupply points if you are willing to ride off route for a few miles.
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